Longbourn

Longbourn

3.6 65
by Jo Baker
     
 

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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Title, a Christian Science Monitor Best Fiction Book, a Miami Herald Favorite Book, and a Kirkus Best Book of the Year

The servants take center stage in this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice. While Elizabeth Bennet

Overview

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Title, a Christian Science Monitor Best Fiction Book, a Miami Herald Favorite Book, and a Kirkus Best Book of the Year

The servants take center stage in this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice. While Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters fuss over balls and husbands, Sarah, their orphaned housemaid, is beginning to chafe against the boundaries of her class. When a new footman arrives at Longbourn under mysterious circumstances, the carefully choreographed world she has known all her life threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. Mentioned only fleetingly in Jane Austen’s classic, here Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Regency England and, in doing so, uncovers the real world of the novel that has captivated readers’ hearts around the world for generations.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A Best Book of the Year Selection: New York Times 100 Notable, Seattle Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Kirkus Reviews
 
“Rich, engrossing, and filled with fascinating observations. . . . If you are a Jane Austen fan . . . you will devour Jo Baker’s ingenious Longbourn.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Original and charming, even gripping, in its own right.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Masterful.”
The Miami Herald

“A witty, richly detailed re-imagining. . . . Fans of Austen and Downton Abbey will take particular pleasure in Longbourn, but any reader with a taste for well-researched historical fiction will delight in Baker’s involving, informative tale.”
People

“A bold novel, subversive in ways that prove surprising, and brilliant on every level.”
USA Today

“Delightful.” 
The New Yorker

“A triumph: a splendid tribute to Austen’s original but, more importantly, a joy in its own right, a novel that contrives both to provoke the intellect and, ultimately, to stop the heart.”
The Guardian (London)

“[A] fitting tribute, inventing a touching love story of its own.”
The Wall Street Journal

“A freshly egalitarian reimagining.”
Vogue

“[Baker’s] writing style draws admirably from Austen’s.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Engaging and rewarding.”
The Washington Times

Longbourn is told with glee and great wit.”
The Daily Beast

“The Bennet family’s servants imagined by Baker have richly complicated lives and loyalties. . . . Baker deserves a bouquet. . . . Refreshing.”
The Seattle Times

“There’s a finale so back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead romantic, someone should render it in needlepoint.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Excellent. . . . In Sarah the housemaid, Baker has created a heroine, living in the same house as Elizabeth Bennet, who manages to shine despite Elizabeth’s long literary shadow.”
Christian Science Monitor

“Lively. . . . Baker’s vivid passages about the natural world, working conditions and even of sorrow are . . . well detailed and articulated.”
The Plain Dealer

Longbourn is a really special book, and not only because its author writes like an angel. . . . There are some wildly sad and romantic moments; I was sobbing by the end. . . . Beautiful.” —Wendy Holden, Daily Mail (London)

“Inspired. . . . This is a genuinely fresh perspective on the tale of the Bennet household. . . . A lot of fun.” 
Sunday Times (London)

“This clever glimpse of Austen’s universe through a window clouded by washday steam is so compelling it leaves you wanting to read the next chapter in the lives below stairs rather than peer at the reflections of any grand party in the mirrors of Netherfield.” 
Daily Express (London)

“Impressive. . . . An engrossing tale we neither know nor expect.” 
Daily Telegraph (London)

The New York Times Book Review - Diane Johnson
…an affecting look at the world of Pride and Prejudice, but from another point of view—the servants' hall, where other lives are simultaneously lived, with very different concerns and dramas…Longbourn is delightfully audacious…Baker shares some of [Charlotte] Brontë's qualities—a power of description, a feeling for the natural world, a regard for emotional turbulence—and she shows a comfort with the past that allows her to imagine it in a vivid way…With large imaginative sympathy and a detailed knowledge of early-19th-century housekeeping, Baker gives us a sobering look at the underside—or the practical side—of daily life circa 1812…in a bourgeois household…[Longbourn's] both original and charming…
Publishers Weekly
★ 08/12/2013
The servants of the Bennett estate manage their own set of dramas in this vivid re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice. While the marriage prospects of the Bennett girls preoccupy the family upstairs, downstairs the housekeeper Mrs. Hill has her hands full managing the staff that keeps Longbourn running smoothly: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. At the heart of the novel is a budding romance between James and orphan-turned-housemaid Sarah, whose dutiful service belies a “ferocious need for notice, an insistence that she fully be taken into account.” When an expected turn of events separates the young lovers, Sarah must contend with James’s complicated past and the never-ending demands of the Bennetts. Baker (The Mermaid’s Child) offers deeper insight into Austen’s minor characters, painting Mr. Collins in a more sympathetic light while making the fiendish Mr. Wickham even more sinister. The Militia, which only offered opportunities for flirtations in the original, here serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars. Baker takes many surprising risks in developing the relationships between the servants and the Bennetts, but the end result steers clear of gimmick and flourishes as a respectful and moving retelling. A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Avid Jane Austen readers know Longbourn as the family home of the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice, where five unmarried daughters in search of husbands with fortunes and their put-upon parents reside. This, however, is not their story. The novel takes place beneath the staircase, where the servants prepare the meals, wait tables, scrub mud off boots and petticoats, drive the carriages, and otherwise cater to the daily demands of the household. While the drama of husband-hunting takes place largely offstage and the family goes about its familiar social engagements with the Bingleys, the Darcys, the insufferable Mr. Collins, and the mendacious Wickham, the real drama unfolds when the enigmatic James Smith arrives as a footman and catches the eye of Sarah, the young housemaid with dreams of a world beyond Longbourn. VERDICT British author Baker's second novel after her much lauded The Undertow is densely plotted and achingly romantic. This exquisitely reimagined Pride and Prejudice will appeal to Austen devotees and to anyone who finds the goings-on below the stairs to be at least as compelling as the ones above. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/8/13.]—Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-08-15
An irresistible retake on Pride and Prejudice alters the familiar perspective by foregrounding a different version of events--the servants'. Daring to reconfigure what many would regard as literary perfection, Baker (The Undertow, 2012, etc.) comes at Jane Austen's most celebrated novel from below stairs, offering a working-class view of the Bennet family of Longbourn House. While the familiar drama of Lizzie and Jane, Bingley and Darcy goes on in other, finer rooms, Baker's focus is the kitchen and the stable and the harsh cycle of labor that keeps the household functioning. Cook Mrs. Hill rules the roost, and maids Sarah and Polly do much of the hard work, their interminable roster of chores diminished a little by the hiring of a manservant, James Smith. Sarah is attracted to James, but he is mysterious and withdrawn, and soon, her eye is caught by another--Bingley's black footman, Ptolemy. James, though trapped in his secrets, has noticed Sarah too and steps in when she is on the verge of making an impulsive mistake. And so, the romance begins. Baker is at her best when touching on the minutiae of work, of interaction, of rural life. James' back story, though capably done, offers less magic. But a last episode, moving through grief and silence into understated romantic restoration, showcases a softly piercing insight. Sequels and prequels rarely add to the original, but Baker's simple yet inspired reimagining does. It has best-seller stamped all over it.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345806970
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/17/2014
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
66,986
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter II
 
‘Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.’
 
They were lucky to get him. That was what Mr B. said, as he folded his newspaper and set it aside. What with the War in Spain, and the press of so many able fellows into the Navy; there was, simply put, a dearth of men.
 
A dearth of men? Lydia repeated the phrase, anxiously searching her sisters’ faces: was this indeed the case? Was England running out of men?
 
Her father raised his eyes to heaven; Sarah, meanwhile, made big astonished eyes at Mrs Hill: a new servant joining the household! A manservant! Why hadn’t she mentioned it before? Mrs Hill, clutching the coffee pot to her bosom, made big eyes back, and shook her head: shhh! I don’t know, and don’t you dare ask! So Sarah just gave half a nod, clamped her lips shut, and returned her attention to the table, proffering the platter of cold ham: all would come clear in good time, but it did not do to ask. It did not do to speak at all, unless directly addressed. It was best to be deaf as a stone to these conversations, and seem as incapable of forming an opinion on them.
 
Miss Mary lifted the serving fork and skewered a slice of ham. ‘Papadoesn’t mean your beaux, Lydia – do you, Papa?’
 
Mr B., leaning out of the way so that Mrs Hill could pour his coffee, said that indeed he did not mean her beaux: Lydia’s beaux always seemed to be in more than plentiful supply. But of working men there was a genuine shortage, which is why he had settled with this lad so promptly – this with an apologetic glance to Mrs Hill, as she moved around him and went to fill his wife’s cup – though the quarter day of Michaelmas was not quite yet upon them, it being the more usual occasion for the hiring and dismissal of servants.
 
‘You don’t object to this hasty act, I take it, Mrs Hill?’
 
‘Indeed I am very pleased to hear of it, sir, if he be a decent sort of fellow.’
 
‘He is, Mrs Hill; I can assure you of that.’
 
‘Who is he, Papa? Is he from one of the cottages? Do we know the family?’
 
Mr B. raised his cup before replying. ‘He is a fine upstanding young man, of good family. I had an excellent character of him.’
 
‘I, for one, am very glad that we will have a nice young man to drive us about,’ said Lydia, ‘for when Mr Hill is perched up there on the carriage box it always looks like we have trained a monkey, shaved him here and there and put him in a hat.’
 
Mrs Hill stepped away from the table, and set the coffee pot down on the buffet.
‘Lydia!’ Jane and Elizabeth spoke at once.
 
‘What? He does, you know he does. Just like a spider-monkey, like the one Mrs Long’s sister brought with her from London.’
 
Mrs Hill looked down at a willow-pattern dish, empty, though crusted round with egg. The three tiny people still crossed their tiny bridge, and the tiny boat crawled like an earwig across the china sea, and all was calm there, and unchanging, and perfect. She breathed. Miss Lydia meant no harm, she never did. And however heedlessly she expressed herself, she was right: this change was certainly to be welcomed. Mr Hill had become, quite suddenly, old. Last winter had been a worrying time: the long drives, the late nights while the ladies danced or played at cards; he had got deeply cold, and had shivered for hours by the fire on his return, his breath rattling in his chest. The coming winter’s balls and parties might have done for him entirely. A nice young man to drive the carriage, and to take up the slack about the house; it could only be to the good.
 
Mrs Bennet had heard tell, she was now telling her husband and daughters delightedly, of how in the best households they had nothing but manservants waiting on the family and guests, on account of every- one knowing that they cost more in the way of wages, and that there was a high tax to pay on them, because all the fit strong fellows were wanted for the fields and for the war. When it was known that the Bennets now had a smart young man about the place, waiting at table, opening the doors, it would be a thing of great note and marvel in the neighbourhood.
 
‘I am sure our daughters should be vastly grateful to you, for letting us appear to such advantage, Mr Bennet. You are so considerate. What, pray, is the young fellow’s name?
 
‘His given name is James,’ Mr Bennet said. ‘The surname is a very common one. He is called Smith.’
 
‘James Smith.’
 
It was Mrs Hill who had spoken, barely above her breath, but the words were said. Jane lifted her cup and sipped; Elizabeth raised her eyebrows but stared at her plate; Mrs B. glanced round at her house- keeper. Sarah watched a flush rise up Mrs Hill’s throat; it was all so new and strange that even Mrs Hill had forgot herself for a moment. And then Mr B. swallowed, and cleared his throat, breaking the silence.
 
‘As I said, a common enough name. I was obliged to act with some celerity in order to secure him, which is why you were not sooner informed, Mrs Hill; I would much rather have consulted you in advance.’
 
Cheeks pink, the housekeeper bowed her head in acknowledgement.
 
‘Since the servants’ attics are occupied by your good self, your husband and the housemaids, I have told him he might sleep above the stables. Other than that, I will leave the practical and domestic details to you. He knows he is to defer to you in all things.’
 
‘Thank you, sir,’ she murmured.
 
‘Well.’ Mr B. shook out his paper, and retreated behind it. ‘There we are, then. I am glad that it is all settled.’
 
‘Yes,’ said Mrs B. ‘Are you not always saying, Hill, how you need another pair of hands about the place? This will lighten your load, will it not? This will lighten all your loads.’
 
Their mistress took in Sarah with a wave of her plump hand, and then, with a flap towards the outer reaches of the house, indicated the rest of the domestic servants: Mr Hill who was hunkered in the kitchen, riddling the fire, and Polly who was, at that moment, thumping down the back stairs with a pile of wet Turkish towels and a scowl.
 
‘You should be very grateful to Mr Bennet for his thoughtfulness, I am sure.’
 
‘Thank you, sir,’ said Sarah.
 
The words, though softly spoken, made Mrs Hill glance across at her; the two of them caught eyes a moment.
 
‘Thank you, sir,’ said Mrs Hill.
 
Mrs Bennet dabbed a further spoonful of jam on her remaining piece of buttered muffin, popped it in her mouth, and chewed it twice; she spoke around her mouthful: ‘That’ll be all, Hill.’
 
Mr B. looked up from his paper at his wife, and then at his housekeeper.
 
‘Yes, thank you very much, Mrs Hill,’ he said. ‘That will be all for now.’

Meet the Author

Jo Baker was born in Lancashire, England, and educated at Oxford University and Queen’s University Belfast. She is the author of the novels The Under­tow, Offcomer, The Mermaid’s Child, and The Telling. She lives in Lancaster.

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Longbourn 3.6 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 65 reviews.
clahain1 More than 1 year ago
I wasn't so sure about this one at first. Considering all the Austen sequels, prequels, and re-tellings that have appeared in the past couple of years alone, it's hard to stand out, to somehow make a classic like Pride & Prejudice new. Literary writers have it harder than those turning the book into a contemporary romance or a murder mystery, because the result has to be more than ephemeral entertainment, it has to actually mean something. At the same time, this is Jane Austen--get too heavy  and your audience will riot. Just ask writer/director Patricia Rozema, who tried to insert a bit of historical relevance into her 1999 feature film version of Mansfield Park, treating viewers to hints of Sir Betram's untoward relations with the female slaves on his Antigua plantation and Lady Bertram's addiction to the opiate laudanum. Austen lovers were not amused. Author Jo Baker manages to tread the fine line between literary merit and pure reading enjoyment. She does this by essentially turning Pride & Prejudice on its head. The Bennets, Darcys, and Binglys become minor characters in a drama centering on their normally invisible maids, housekeepers and footmen. In reality, we aren't getting a retelling of a classic at all but a largely original work. The plot centers around housemaid Sarah and James Smith, the natural (illegitimate) son of housekeeper Mrs. Hill and Mr. Bennet, master of an estate that will be entailed away from his heirs because none of the legitimate ones are male. It's this beautiful and tragic irony that provides the central thread of the novel. Baker does a great job recreating the daily grind of life in service during the regency period. Her descriptions of maids washing their mistresses' filthy menstrual rags and carrying  sloshing chamber pots down staircases and through endless twisting corridors on the way to the outdoor "necessary" house brings us right into that cold, aching, stinking world. Yet Baker works to present us with rounded human beings rather than stick figure examples of the evils of social inequality. There's plenty righteous indignation on the part of the servants for their employers' often frivolous demands on their time and energy, but also genuine care and concern flow both upstairs and down. Where Baker does go wrong is in the beginning of volume three of the book, when the action at Longbourn stops dead and we are treated to an exhausting flashback of James's experiences as a  gunner in Portugal and Spain. Three chapters of violence, hunger and sexual exploitation that lead us....where? We already know the footman has an unhappy past and is wary of being noticed by soldiers of the militia staying in Meryton. And, through two taut interactions with the noxious and conniving Wickham, we get enough detail to set up the coming plot turns. The flashback is gratuitous  and undercuts the novel at the very point when it should be the tightest and most dramatic. Luckily, Baker does get back to Longbourn and even takes us beyond the end of Pride & Prejudice, so we get to follow James, Sarah, Polly, and Mrs. Hill a little way into their futures. Here's where the book really succeeds. Baker's servant class characters are as fascinating to spend time with as Austen's elegant creations and, by the end, we're just as sorry to say goodbye to them.
MommaG More than 1 year ago
This is not just another P&P variation. This book stands apart from all of the sequals, prequals and variations. It is not another story of the Bennets and Darcys but a story of the average person and the not so romantic real life of everyday Regency England. The story of Sarah, James and Mr. and Mrs. Hill changes how we think of the "gentle" class of Bennets. Mrs. Hill who is always portrayed as Mrs. Bennet's crutch becomes a person with a past and a present and secrets that have a lasting affect on the members of the Bennet family. Elizabeth, while not a Caroline Bingley looking down her nose at the world, is unaware that others are not there to do her bidding. Elizabeth,as an extension of Darcy's arrogance and entitlement, is unable to understand why Sarah is unhappy with being separated from those she loves. The history and the lives of those that serve provide another look into this period and another view of some of our favorites. The characters of Sarah, the Hills and James are real. I fell for James and his kindness and pain and Sarah as she matured and realized that there was more for her life if she took control. I loved this book and will read it again and again. Jo Baker's characters are alive and moving. Excellant, excellant book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jane Austen would be disappointed to have this book connected to her name or work in anyway. The plot was weak and the characters unappealing and at times downright immoral.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jo Baker writes a story that goes right inline with "Pride and Preduice". If you are familiar with Austen's work you can picture what was happening throughout the entire Bennet household. Worth the time spent reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great premise for all of the Pride and Prejudice lovers out there. Unfortunately, the characters are dull, the story line weak, and the book is flat.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!! I now will read again "Pride and Prejudice" because of this novel. Wonderful characters and great information about servants in this time period. Wonderful love story. Such a great idea for a book - well written, familiar but also new, and totally grabs the reader. Loved this book!! Another great novel I loved on the Nook is "The Partisan" by William Jarvis. It is based on facts and has wonderful male and female characters and a horrible villian. Both novels deserve A+++++++++++
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fan of Downton Abbey and P&P, I was excited about this book and Entertainmently Weekly made it sound perfect. It was slow, boring and I didn't like or care about the main character. Only interesting bit was the Housekeeper back story.
books4gail More than 1 year ago
Longbourn combines beautiful writing with a plot that did not hold my interest. Baker captures the "downstairs" tedium beautifully but failed to captivate me with the love triangle of the main characters. Of course, the comparison is Elizabeth/Darcy/Wickham--no one could win that contest. I agree with another reviewer that the book goes off the rails in volume three. The closer we stay to Sarah, the more interesting the plot is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a well written and an accurate portrayl of the servant class. However it was difficult to read. Not becuase the characters were unintresting or for lack of a plot. But because honestly the whole book was just sort of sad. The servants slave away taking thier misfortunes as they come and settle for the life they have. While I am sure thats accurate I cant say it was enjoyable to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Often I don't care enough about the characters in a novel because they are not made real and the author loses me. Not so with this engrossing novel. The characters become real very quickly and stay real. I couldn't put the book down. I was transported back in time, and lived through their joys and miseries with them. Only praise for this wonderful imaginative and empathetic portrait of a past time that in its exploration of inequality is very much a depiction of the inequality that remains today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pride and Prejudice meets Upstairs, Downstairs. I am a big Jane Austen fan and typically re-read Pride and Prejudice once or twice a year. But I will probably never read it the same way again, now that I have read Longbourn. Jo Baker retells Austen's most loved story from the point of view of the Bennet family servants and with their lives at the center of the action. The result is a compelling novel and a serious commentary on social inequality in both Austen's time and our own.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written with intrigue and excitement.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Surpisingly well written and believable. Most Austen spin offs are not. Harsher reality of life downstairs than upstairs.
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Jamaican More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book!! Her prose just sings and all the characters come to life. I read Pride and Prejudice for an English Literature class in high school but have totally forgotten it. This book was so good that I today bought Pride and Prejudice to read again on my Nook. Also bought The Undertow, by this same author..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have already read this book twice because I enjoyed it so much. It reminds me of the wonderful experience of reading Jane Austen, only with "downstairs" characters. I love how Jo Baker weaves in the story of "Pride and Prejudice" with this story. I actually like these characters as much as I like the original Austen characters. I also felt that the story kept my interest and I wanted to know what would happen to each of the characters. Totally enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
Longbourn is set in the Pride and Prejudice world but it focuses on one particular servant at the Bennet's house, Sarah. The Bennet's house is actually called Longbourn.. because back in the day houses were also given names… Anyways, I was very excited to pick this up because I love Pride and Prejudice and for me any extra time in that world is worth my reading time. I have to say that Longbourn is very slow. It took me two weeks to read it because I didn't feel compelled or had the urge to actually read big chunks of it at a time. I liked Sarah.. she works hard and has had a tough life. I also liked the relationship between all the servants and how the head servant actually treats Sarah and Polly like her children. That was very sweet. However what I didn't enjoy about this book is the way the Bennet family as depicted. Mr.Bennet is this man who has taken advantage of someone and has no love towards his wife. Elizabeth is sometimes thought of as someone who couldn't care less about Sarah and her well being. I just.. I love those characters so much as reading about them having an ugly side didn't sit well with me. I have to say that this isn't really a love story. Yes there's a man and there's a mystery behind who he is, and there is a romance between him and Sarah too, however we spend so much time, almost towards the end of the book, going back in time to find out his mystery.. however I believe we spend too much time in the past to the point that I grew restless. Overall I do think the novel was interesting and a different take on the story Pride and Prjeudice, but the slow pacing as well as the barely there dialogue made me take much longer than I really should reading this book. This is a three star rating and I recommend it to fans of historical fiction, as long as you don't mind a slow pace.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago